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30 December 2011

Fire rages on nuclear submarine

Image: Firefighters work to extinguish the fire at the Roslyakovo shipyard in the northern Russian region of Murmansk, in this still image taken from video.

Moscow - Russia used helicopters and tugboats to battle a fire that engulfed a nuclear submarine docked at a shipyard on Thursday, but emergency officials said radiation levels were normal.

Television pictures showed a giant plume of smoke above the yard in the Murmansk region of northern Russia and said helicopters were trying to douse flames which witnesses said rose 10m above the stricken vessel.

Russia said all weapons had been removed from the 167m Yekaterinburg, which launched a ballistic missile from the Barents Sea as recently as July, and that the nuclear reactor had been shut down.

“Radiation levels are normal,” a spokesperson for the emergencies ministry said. “No one was injured.”

A source at the shipyard told RIA news agency that a decision had been taken to submerge the hull of the submarine, leaving only the tower above water level, to put out the flames.

The blaze at the Roslyakovo dock, one of the main dockyards of Russia's northern fleet 1 500km north of Moscow, is believed to have started when wooden scaffolding caught fire during repairs to the submarine, which some Russian news agencies said had been hoisted into a dry dock.

The 18 200-ton Yekaterinburg can carry 16 ballistic missiles, each with four warheads.

Russia's worst post-Soviet submarine disaster occurred in August 2000 when the Kursk nuclear submarine sank in the Barents Sea killing all 118 crewmen aboard.

- Reuters